Here’s a quick comparison of schedules between two basketball teams from Feb. 11-27.
Team A: Five home and three away games.
Team B: Four home and four away games.
Pretty similar, right?
Team A is the NBA defending champion Los Angeles Lakers while Team B is the Washington Huskies.
Typically, college basketball teams play fewer games than the pros, but a couple of rescheduled games have forced a heavy workload upon the UW men during the last 2½ weeks of this coronavirus-shortened regular season.
This week, the Huskies play back-to-back games against Arizona State — Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Thursday at 4 p.m. at Desert Financial Arena — before wrapping up at Arizona on Saturday.
“It is what it is,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “We’re not going to harp on it. It’s not going to be the easiest thing. It’s going to be another challenge during this time, but we’ll do the best with what we have with it.”
The Pac-12 didn’t directly consult with Hopkins or the Huskies when figuring out how to reschedule 20 games that were postponed this season due to COVID-19 complications, including six involving Arizona State.
Washington was originally scheduled to host the Sun Devils on Jan. 2 before a virus outbreak on the ASU team forced that game to be postponed.
During the Pac-12 rescheduling, UW lost its home game against ASU. The Huskies also had their regular-season finale at Washington State moved from March 6 to Feb. 15 to create flexibility in the league schedule.
“Did we have a say? No,” Hopkins said. “They’re trying to get the games in, which we respect and we want. But obviously, it’s not the most competitive advantage piece for us, by any stretch of the imagination. Eight games in (17) days is a pretty tough feat and a lot of road games.”
Playing every other day during this stretch doesn’t allow the Huskies much time for practice, considering flights to Pullman and Phoenix as well as NCAA rules stipulating players receive at least one off day each week, not including travel days.
While it’s true that during a non-COVID year practices would be limited this late into the season, Hopkins has had little time in workouts to iron out the wrinkles in a new matchup defense the team installed weeks ago.
A top priority is resting players during off days and Hopkins expects to expand UW’s eight-man rotation at some point this week to include backup forward J’Raan Brooks and possibly RaeQuan Battle for extended minutes.
“You get some shooting in, you watch a little film, but not really any practice,” Hopkins said. “At this time a lot of your system is in anyway. It’s just really are you going to be mentally prepared, physically prepared to go out and play some really good teams on the road?
“It’s hard to win on the road anyway, but it’s what they gave us and we’ve got to be able to use it and don’t think about it or talk about it and just go out and play our best and try to become a good team and play good together and do the things that we’ve been working on and focusing on.”
Washington and Arizona State rank 11th and 12th in the Pac-12 while allowing 75.5 and 77.4 points, respectively. However, in the past five games UW is surrendering just 65.2 points.
In their last outing, the Huskies smothered California defensively during a 62-51 victory in which the Golden Bears shot a season-low 26.7% from the field.
“We’ve gotten a lot better at (defense),” Hopkins said. “Still not where it obviously needs to be, but they’re feeling more comfortable in it. Teams are having a tough time playing against it, for the most part.”
Washington (5-17, 4-13 Pac-12) will be hard pressed to slow down an up-tempo ASU team that ranks third in the Pac-12 in scoring (74.8 points per game) and leads the league in turnover margin (+4.7).
The Sun Devils (7-11, 4-8) have fallen short of lofty preseason expectations due to an assortment of injuries and scheduling disruptions.
Arizona State has not had its full roster for any game this season and it’s uncertain if freshmen standouts Josh Christopher and Marcus Bagley — who both missed the past three games — will be available Tuesday.
Still, preseason All-American Remy Martin has been arguably the Pac-12’s best player in the past four weeks while averaging 24.9 points in seven games.
“They led UCLA for 39 minutes and lost at the end,” Hopkins said, referring to ASU’s 80-79 defeat last Saturday. “This is a team that’s highly capable and when … all cylinders are going at the same time they can beat anybody in the country. So it will be a great test for us.”